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Can the Rising Padres and Bottom-Feeder Marlins Pull Off the Unthinkable in the NLDS?

By: Taylor Bechtold

With this opportunity in mind, the San Diego Padres made a tremendous statement at the Aug. 31 trade deadline by making a nine-player blockbuster deal and acquiring several other key pieces.

Now the loose, free-playing Padres hope to have right-hander Mike Clevinger – one of those top deadline pickups – back from an elbow injury against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers when their NLDS best-of-five series begins Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas. After losing Game 1 in the best-of-3, San Diego rallied past the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild card round despite not having top starters Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet (biceps). Both are considered day-to-day.

San Diego got the attention of Los Angeles on Sept. 14 when Trent Grisham homered off Clayton Kershaw, tossed his bat and screamed “Let’s go!” in a victory that trimmed the Dodgers’ division lead to a half-game. Kershaw, who had been 13-0 with a 1.38 ERA in his previous 19 starts against the Padres, took the loss in this rivalry for the first time since June 2013.

The Dodgers responded by winning the next two games and their eighth-straight division title by six. Overall, Los Angeles took six of the 10 meetings with its Southern California rival.

There’s a similar scenario playing out in the NLDS in Houston, where the young, up-and-coming Miami Marlins are trying take down the three-time NL East champion Atlanta Braves. The sixth-seeded Marlins, who lost 100 games in 2019 and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2003, stunned the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs in the wild card round. Miami overcame long odds as MLB’s 27th-ranked team this season, according to our model (more on this in a bit).

The Braves took care of the Cincinnati Reds in two games. In this series, runs could be difficult to come by after the two pitching staffs allowed one combined run in their four wild card contests. However, that wasn’t a problem for the Braves when they outscored the Marlins 56-22 while winning four of the last five meetings to win the regular-season series 6-4.

Let’s take a closer look at these neutral-site matchups and analyze our data to determine which teams could move on to the NLCS. To project our winners, we’re using a model that combines each club’s Raw Value data into a single ranking system.

Raw Value+ (RV+) examines how a hitter performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, while Raw Value- (RV-) does the same from a pitcher’s perspective.

OFFENSE

Cody Bellinger (.239, 12 HRs), the 2019 NL MVP, has struggled, but Corey Seager hit .307 with 15 home runs and finished third (186) in the majors in RV+, and new addition Mookie Betts had a .292 average and 16 homers. Seager homered in the wild card round and Betts went 3 for 7 with three doubles. Betts has also done some damage against the Padres, going 12 for 28 (.429) with three homers in the season series. Los Angeles was our top-rated offensive club in the regular season after leading the majors with 118 home runs and 5.8 runs per game.

Four Padres ranked in the MLB’s top 21 in RV+: Fernando Tatis Jr. (.277, 17 HRs), Jake Cronenworth (.285, 4 HRs), Wil Myers (.288, 15 HRs) and Manny Machado (.304, 16 HRs). Myers was tough on LA pitching during the regular season, going 12 for 33 (.364) with three home runs and three doubles. But the Dodgers did a decent job containing Tatis Jr. (.205, 2 HRs), Machado (.237 2 HRs) and Cronenworth (.222 1 HR). Tatis Jr. finished the regular season with the eighth-best RV+ (164) in the majors. San Diego was behind only the Dodgers in our offensive rankings.

EDGE: DODGERS

STARTING PITCHERS

As we touched on earlier, the availability of San Diego’s top two starters is a huge X-factor. Lamet went 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA in 12 starts and finished ninth in MLB with a 60 RV-. He was solid in two starts against the Dodgers this season, allowing two earned runs and five hits over 12 2/3 innings. Zach Davies, who led the majors in Command+ (121), and Chris Paddack may have to fill in again after giving up a combined 10 runs over 4 1/3 innings in their two starts against the Cardinals.

Walker Buehler, who allowed two runs over four innings in Game 1 of the wild card round against the Milwaukee Brewers, will again take the ball for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS. Buehler has pitched well against the Padres, going 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA in five career starts. We mentioned Kershaw’s success versus San Diego, and he put talk of his playoff struggles to rest by limiting Milwaukee to three hits while fanning 13 over eight innings in a 3-0 victory in Game 2.

The Dodgers’ rotation ranked fourth in the NL by our metrics, while the Padres were sixth. However, LA’s advantage will widen if Clevinger and Lamet aren’t able to contribute much.

EDGE: DODGERS

BULLPEN

Los Angeles relievers finished the regular season fourth in Whiff+, which measures the swing and miss ability of a pitcher – a critical component in the performance of a bullpen, and second in our bullpen rankings overall. The Dodgers’ pen worked six scoreless innings in the series versus Milwaukee with Brusdar Graterol and Kenley Jansen recording saves.

Without Clevinger and Lamet, the Padres had to rely heavily on their bullpen against the Cardinals. Their relievers, who ranked third in the majors in ERA (3.16) over the final month of the season and ended up our fifth-ranked pen in the NL, allowed just four earned runs over 21 innings in the three games. That included seven shutout frames in the decisive Game 3.

They’re good, just not quite as good as the Dodgers’ group.

EDGE: DODGERS

It’s true that the Dodgers hold the advantage over the Padres in every category, but the margin is very slim in each. In fact, our model ranked the Dodgers as the No. 1 team in baseball heading into the postseason while the Padres were No. 2. This clearly projects as a five-game series.

STATS PERFORM’S PROJECTION: DODGERS IN 5

OFFENSE

The Braves finished the regular season with our third-ranked offense, while the Marlins were 27th in all of baseball. NL MVP candidates Freddie Freeman (202) and Marcell Ozuna (170) were in the top 10 in RV+, while Ronald Acuna Jr. (154) ended up 13th. Freeman hit .350 with two homers, six doubles and 11 RBIs against the Marlins this season. Ozzie Albies (10 for 21, 2 HRs), Dansby Swanson (15 for 35, 2 HRs) and Adam Duvall (10 for 32, 5 HRs) also clubbed Miami pitching. Acuna Jr. led the way in the wild card round, going 4 for 11 with two doubles versus Cincinnati’s outstanding pitching staff.

Only the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies were ranked worse than the Marlins offensively during the regular season. It certainly doesn’t help that Starling Marte is out after suffering a broken hand on a hit-by-pitch in the wild card round. Jesus Aguilar, who was the only Marlin with an RV+ (124) higher than the league average during the regular season, was 15 for 40 (.375) with two homers in the season series versus Atlanta.

EDGE: BRAVES

STARTING PITCHERS

Atlanta will send Cy Young candidate Max Fried to the mound for Game 1. Fried, who was 13th in MLB with a 65 RV- during the regular season, threw seven shutout innings against the Reds but has a 5.13 ERA in six career starts against the Marlins. Rookie right-hander Ian Anderson will get the ball in Game 2 after he allowed two hits and struck out nine over six scoreless innings versus Cincinnati. Kyle Wright is scheduled to work Game 3 for the Braves, whose starters ranked 12th in the NL during the regular season.

Sandy Alcantara will take the ball for the Marlins in the opener. The right-hander gave up one run and three hits over 6 2/3 innings in Game 1 against the Cubs and has a 2.41 ERA in three career starts versus Atlanta. Pablo Lopez, who also pitched well in the wild card round, is set to start the second game in Houston before Miami gives the ball to Sixto Sanchez in Game 3. Lopez ranked 11th in RV- (63) this season and he’s 2-1 with a 3.65 ERA in his last five starts against the Braves. Overall, the Marlins had the seventh-best rotation in 2020.

EDGE: MARLINS

BULLPEN

The Braves are expected to once again lean heavily on veteran closer Mark Melancon (11 saves) and setup man Shane Greene (2.60 ERA). Atlanta’s bullpen, which had the fourth-best ERA (3.40) and RV- in the majors, struck out 14 over nine scoreless innings against the Reds.

Brandon Kintzler, who worked two hitless innings against the Cubs, has pitched well with a 2.22 ERA and 12 saves in 14 chances. The Marlins’ bullpen threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings in the wild card round but was rated 14th in the NL and 28th overall by our metrics.

EDGE: BRAVES

According to our model, the Braves were MLB’s fifth-ranked club overall heading into the postseason, while the Marlins made the playoffs despite being 27th. Miami, however, has the edge in starting pitching and that should make a difference in at least one of the games.

STATS PERFORM’S PROJECTION: BRAVES IN 4

 

Data modeling and analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.

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